J.D. Salinger’s popular “The Catcher in the Rye” is considered requisite reading by both scholars and literary snobs, and locally, the community came together to read and discuss Sherman Alexie’s work “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.”
However, if the censors had their way, those books would have been banned from the shelves of libraries, classrooms and even book stores.
The efforts to ban books such as “Catcher” and “Part Time Indian,” and ultimately the triumph of the First Amendment, are in focus Sept. 24 through Oct. 1 as the U.S. observes National Banned Books Week.
According to the American Library Association, Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.
“Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States,” the ALA said via press release.
Locally the Inyo County Free Library, Eastside Books and Spellbinder Books are celebrating Banned Books Week by directing readers to some selected works that were banned or contested at one time.
Throughout the week, Spellbinder Books will be offering a display of banned and contested books for youth and adults and a guide as to why each piece was considered controversial.
Among many others, the Spellbinder youth display includes “An Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which last year’s Community Reads book and “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. For adults, Spellbinder is offering “A Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld, among many others.
Similarly, Eastside Books, with a vast selection of used works, has a display available highlighting some notable banned books.
While the limited staff working for the Inyo County Free Library and a busy schedule did not provide for any special events or displays, Inyo County Librarian Nancy Masters said local libraries do have a selection of banned and contested books and, as always, residents are invited to check them out.
“The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings,” the ALA said. “Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.”
Without those individuals looking out for freedom of expression, many treasured books may not be available.
For example, the display at Spellbinder points out that there was one move to have Shel Silverstien’s collection of poems, “A Light in the Attic,” banned because it “encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” One offended reader also attempted to have Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan” banned because “Tarzan is ‘living in sin’ with Jane.”
Possibly the worst reason anyone ever attempted to have “The Diary of Anne Franke” by Anne Frank removed from the reach of the general public was because “it is a real downer.”
The ALA goes on to say that intellectual freedom – the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if those ideas and information are considered unpopular or unorthodox by some – provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.
“BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them,” the ALA said. “Imagine how many more books might be challenged – and possibly banned or restricted – if librarians, teachers and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”